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From the Marbles

Happy Hour: A final word on MWR plus Kurt Busch and Nationwide

Nick Bromberg
From The Marbles

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Well, oops. (Getty Images)

Throughout the week you can send us your best questions, jokes, rants and just plain miscellaneous thoughts to happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com or @NickBromberg. We'll post them here, have a good time and everyone's happy. Right? Oh who are we kidding, this is NASCAR. No one is ever happy.

Lots of letters again this week, especially in the wake of publication on Thursday. But once Jeff Gordon was added to the Chase on Friday, it was a different NASCAR world.

How about that NAPA news, eh? I can't imagine the sponsor getting out of the sport, but crazier things have happened. Of all the teams looking for sponsorship for marquee drivers, the only one that comes to mind for next year is Kurt Busch. And that would be quite interesting. However, if NAPA wants to go down to say a half-season or something else, the options are considerable. We'll see where this one goes. I'm still standing by my prediction that what happened at Richmond (and subsequently Friday at Chicago) will continue to overshadow anything that happens over the next nine races.

I've been following NASCAR for 40 years now. From my perspective, what I have a problem with concerning all the brouhaha at Richmond is the way NASCAR has become so reactive to what I see as public pressure. I remember in the "golden days" of the sport, running under the old points system, where the points race would come down to a few drivers at the end of the season, team owners would attempt to qualify several "independent" (ahem) drivers with orders to start and park. Therefore, their contending driver would be assured of not finishing last and maybe assuring them the championship. I remember that happening a couple of times. No problem, no reaction from NASCAR from owners gaming the rules. Now when the public outrage becomes too hot for NASCAR to deal with, they try to "make it right" by fudging with the finish and taking points. MWR didn't cheat. They fudged the rules to their benefit. The main perpetrator wasn't even penalized! Heck, this comes from a sport where the unofficial motto is "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't trying!"
- Brian

I've said this one before too, but the fact that Bowyer essentially wasn't penalized is absolutely bizarre.

What MWR did was not something that's a novelty. It has been done before and will continue to be done, just not in the blatantly obvious ways that MWR did it. Which is why it's so important to draw the line between manipulation and cheating. MWR didn't cheat. Did they manipulate? Yes. But they didn't cheat.

I have read a lot this week about the penalty for helping a teammate. What is the difference between Vickers slowing to help a team mate... than when a car loses the lead draft and a team mate slows to help him catch back up. If he is left alone very likely the car will go a lap down. Or a car slowing so a team mate can get trash off his grill. I am sure you could think of many other scenarios, but where do you draw the line with team cars helping others?
- Jim

The difference is that it's done with the sole purpose of helping a teammate and not done to benefit other drivers that are teammates. There's a distinct difference of tanking to help a teammate (and someone else) than it is to do one of the examples listed above.

That's what NASCAR tried to clarify with the 100 percent rule, and those examples fall in the realm of acceptable. It's just that with the specter of the 100 percent rule, there's a ton of subjectivity.
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Back when Kurt Busch was driving for Phoenix Racing I wrote to the Mailbag to say that Kurt Busch was a very good driver, but his attitude was holding him and his teams back. I put in some stats of how Phoenix Racing teams improvement could be just the team getting better with experience. I also had something that compared him to Darrell Waltrip, early in his career he was not well liked by too many people. Darrell Waltrip had said in an interview that he had a crash, I forget where, that change him to a better person.
While I am still not a Kurt Busch fan, I think it is important to say in the same form that he has taken the lessons learned over that tough time of his career and made improvements. He seams to be more humble and is excited about the opportunity to take a one car team to a Chase team. While if something goes wrong he still gets mad,but doesn't let it affect the rest of his race or belittle his team. He states we have to better then that. It is good to see that he become a better person. I wish him luck in the Chase and continued growth at Stewart-Haas.
- Keith

I'm not sure that the test is over for Kurt Busch. Personally, I think it's what happens in the next year or two at Stewart-Haas that will ultimately define the change. It's one thing to be contrite and humble with two different teams in two years, neither of which have made the Chase before. It's another to not change when you're back at the pinnacle.

I had 15 minutes with Busch last week, and we had a great conversation. He was engaging, funny, introspective and thoughtful. If that continues, there are great things on the horizon at Stewart-Haas.
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With Nationwide Insurance calling it quits as title sponsor after 2014, it seems like a good time for the series to build a new identity. I think the series should focus less on trying to be like a low level Cup series and diversify a bit. Add a few more road courses or road/ovals, add some dirt tracks, and go to race tracks the Cup series doesn't go to.
NASCAR always seems willing to experiment in the series like adding international races, even if they may be just on the outside of the boarders, and rain tires for road racing. I'm sure there are plenty of tracks dying to host a NASCAR event or reclaim an event, looking at you Rockingham, and as attendance is smaller for these events you wouldn't need huge facilities.
This could have a multiple positive effects for the series. One, it would add excitement because it is different. Added excitement means new drivers, new sponsors, new fans, and more back to roots racing to recapture old fans. Two, with a different schedule that doesn't so closely mirror the Cup schedule you would have less Cup regulars hogging the spotlight. While I love racing more than anything, seeing the same track three times a weekend can get old, especially if its a boring race. Three, drivers would be more skilled for the Cup level with more variety of experience gained.
The Truck race on dirt was awesome and I wouldn't want to over saturate any series with it, but lets say 5 races on dirt, 10 road or road/oval races and the rest ovals. More short tracks to account for the lack of horsepower, races at Indy and big 2-mile ovals are pretty boring because the field gets so spread out.
How about it NASCAR? You had the courage to completely alter your Chase for the Championship, even if most of us think it wasn't for the better. Take a risk and show us you love racing too!
-Brian (a different one!)

First off, I think Nationwide's move up to Cup and related sponsorships encapsulates how the NASCAR sponsorship scale works in a perfect world. A company gets in at a lower level, sees the return on investment and ultimately ratchets up that investment at NASCAR's top tier.

But yes, a new sponsor identity is a perfect way to change up the series. However, would fans be able to wait another season before there would be changes to Cup drivers participating in the Nationwide Series?

Unfortunately, companion races are here to stay, though I wouldn't mind cutting down on the number of them and going to some shorter tracks with both the Nationwide and Truck Series on the same weekend. It'd be a way to keep costs down and what if you made it a one-day show for the track and both series? Given how short the races are, it'd be possible to run both Trucks and Nationwide in the same day with practice and qualifying. Get in, get out, get on with it.

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